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Topic: Do You Skype?
Peter Travis celebrates the many opportunities that online communication offers.
This is adapted from an article that first appeared in the ETP (English Teaching Professional) in Issue 56.

Page 1: Skype as a communication tool
Page 2: Starting and using Skype
Page 3: Things to watch out for

It has never been a better time to study languages. Developments in technology offer our learners many opportunities to use the internet for language learning, whether through online interactive quizzes, downloaded podcasts for authentic listening practice or through connections made with the various networking sites like Facebook or Myspace. One of the most practical technologies for the language learner which has emerged in recent years is ‘instant messaging’, a way of communicating from computer to computer instantaneously by text, voice or videocam.

Capacity to communicate
Language teachers will all be aware of two inherent limitations of class-based language learning. Conversation time is valued highly by our learners and yet speaking opportunities are at a premium in face-to-face sessions. What’s more, until recently, frequent practice with native speakers (for many) has been out of their reach. Thanks to instant messaging, this no longer needs to be the case. Whether studying alone or as part of a group, with tools like Windows Live and Yahoo Messenger, students can now speak to others in all four corners of the world at a time that suits them – and it’s absolutely free!

If you’ve yet to dabble in instant messaging and worry that it’s all a bit too high-tech, then think again. These tools are quick to learn and allow users to text chat, make telephone-style voice calls and even video conference from one computer to another with very little technical expertise required. So, whether you want to offer flexible speaking opportunities for your students, link up with native speakers or simply keep in touch with your favourite auntie on the other side of the world, the opportunity is now just a mouse click away.

Let’s look at one tool in particular: Skype, found at www.skype.com. Skype allows you to call a single Skype user or run conference sessions with up to five other people free of charge. You can also host a ‘Skypecast’, essentially a session open to the public, which allows up to 100 people into a ‘room’ at the same time and gives the moderator, that’s you, the choice of who speaks and when. So, whether your needs are for a one-to-one chat, an online paired or group discussion or a formal presentation or lecture, you can do it with Skype. And, with the addition of a third-party simple-to-use product, these conversations and presentations can even be recorded for people to listen to later as podcast-style audio files!

Page 1: Skype as a communication tool
Page 2: Starting and using Skype
Page 3: Things to watch out for